Tis the season to be merry, and arts organizations are certainly contributing more than their fair share to the mood. From festive concerts and ballet spectaculars to theme-park celebrations and artsy shopping, the city will be awash with holiday offerings for all tastes and budgets. And it all starts early in November, so make your plans accordingly.
The sound of music and dancing feet
There’s no Christmas season without The Nutcracker, and this year is no different. Multiple productions punctuate the calendar, attracting thousands of adults and children. First up is Ballet San Antonio’s polished version that will be accompanied live by the San Antonio Symphony at the Majestic Theatre Nov. 25 through Dec. 2, for a total of eight performances. San Antonio’s own professional ballet company has made huge strides in recent years, and its Nutcracker has some terrific original touches. A couple of weeks later (Dec. 16-18), ARTS San Antonio will again bring to town the Arlington-based Metropolitan Classical Ballet to present its version of the Christmas classic featuring Russian-trained soloists in all the leading roles, including Olga Pavlova, the former principal of the Moscow Classical Ballet.
ARTS San Antonio has other treats for us as well. On Nov. 20, The Kings of Salsa promise to shake up the Majestic with Cuban salsa, mambo and cha-cha-cha, backed up by the eight-piece band Cuba Ashire with two vocalists. On Dec. 2, Henry Brun and his Latin Playerz take to the stage at the Empire for a concert of Latin Christmas music. Grand music will be everywhere this season. The San Antonio Symphony artistic director Sebastian Lang-Lessing will conduct three upcoming concerts starting with SLL Salutes America (excerpts from West Side Story and Porgy and Bess) and continuing with Brahms Sings and Rachmaninoff 2, an evening dominated by the composer’s Symphony No. 2. The symphony and the Mastersingers will then join forces for the annual Messiah concert to be performed this year Dec. 2-4 in three locations: University United Methodist Church, Trinity Baptist Church and Coker United Methodist Church. The popular Holiday Pops is scheduled for Dec. 16. Other musical groups are stepping up to the festive plate, too. If you haven’t yet had a chance to hear the all-female choral ensemble Voci di Sorelle, here is your opportunity — the angelic-sounding group will bring you Comfort and Joy Dec. 11 in the Chapel of the Incarnate Word. The a cappella program will feature medieval and Renaissance Christmas music. Meanwhile, the Grammy-nominated Camerata San Antonio is planning An English Christmas with three regional performances Dec.8-11, while Musical Bridges Around the world is going international with Golden Fingers and Golden Toes on Dec. 11. The latter is an extravaganza spotlighting seven pianists from a number of countries playing together in various combinations — including a piece for seven pianos — plus a ballet troupe from New York (at McAllister Auditorium, SAC).
More music and musicals
For those of us who love the heart-piercing sounds of the mariachis, there can’t be a better time of the year than this. The 17th annual Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza Festival kicks off Nov. 27 with a mariachi mass at San Fernando Cathedral and ends Dec. 3-4 with two evening Mariachi Vargas concerts at the Lila Cockrell Theatre. In between, mariachi musicians from all over the United States participate in competitions, workshops, River Walk serenades and more. Another seasonal tradition that many look forward to is the Holiday Saxophones with the Regency Jazz Band and other musicians. The high-power group will perform twice on Dec. 18, first at the UTSA Downtown Campus Buena Vista Theater (2 p.m.) and in a protracted jam session later at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center (7-11 p.m.) Songs and music invade local stages as well this time of the year. A Christmas Carol, the Musical has become a new tradition at the San Pedro Playhouse, and the Broadway Across America series brings us the perennially beloved Fiddler on the Roof. The former stays faithful to the Dickensian tale but enlivens the action with lots of dance, giant puppets, flying ghosts and falling snow in addition to songs. (A note: The Broadway series at the Majestic continues immediately after the holidays with what is easily the most powerful musical ever created: Les Miserables.)
Over at the Carver Community Cultural Center, the Renaissance Guild will present Black Nativity, a work created by poet and playwright Langston Hughes to tell the Christmas story through a combination of narrative, dance, gospel songs and folk spirituals (Dec. 9 and 11). And let’s not forget our amusement parks, Sea World and Six Flags Fiesta Texas, both of which have special holiday events, grand illuminations and lots of music. One of the new features at Sea World this year is A Dolphin Christmas, featuring Beluga whales, dolphins, acrobats and trainers executing their moves to the score of The Nutcracker. That should be something to see! Music and merriment will also be provided by small groups of performers with names like the Jingle Bells, the Peppermints and the Blue Pine Trio. And while browsing around you may encounter the Tree Top Angel (an operatic soprano), roaming the streets of the park singing Christmas carols.
Humor is part of the holidays, too
Another Christmas tradition was started nine years ago by the Company Theater and actor/director Damien Gillen when he launched his one-man version of A Christmas Carol, called Bah Humbug!, in which he portrays all the characters. It’s an amazing and amusing tour de force that you can enjoy again this season, first at Little Italy Restaurant (Nov. 25-26) and then at the Arneson River Theater Dec. 17. The Overtime Theater, whose popularity seems to grow with each show, has also cooked up a holiday show but with a twist. It’s an original written by James Hartz that promises not to be “sticky-sweet.” Get ready for yelling, lying and violence … you know, the kind of stuff that “never happens” at family gatherings (Dec.3-Dec.17). For heavy-duty laughs you may want to visit the Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club, which is featuring nationally known comedian and radio and TV star D.L. Hughley Dec. 2-4. “He’s our big catch,” says LOL’s Michele Krier, “and one of the top acts in the country.” Hughley wrote, produced and starred in the ABC/UPN sitcom series The Hughleys, appeared on Seinfeld and other shows and was a member of Spike Lee’s The Original Kings of Comedy.
Yes, shopping, but not at the mall. We are talking about one-of-a-kind gift items produced by artists and craftsmen. Two special markets to explore are Hecho a Mano/Made by Hand at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center (Dec. 2-4) and Art.i.copia at the Southwest School of Art (Dec. 10). Jewelry, ceramics, glass, paintings and sculptures are among the many unique offerings.
And Bazar Sábado at the San Antonio Museum of Art will be back with tempting gifts for yourself or others on Dec. 10.